By John McLoughlin, Tower Hamlets Unison, personal capacity
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Unison conference: Frustration, anger and demands for a fight

This article is over 8 years, 7 months old
Issue 2358
Dave Prentis getting tough on pay (Pic: Unison)
Dave Prentis promising to get tough on the pay freeze pay last year (Pic: Unison)

Council workers from around Britain came to Liverpool this week for the Unison union’s local government sector conference.

There was a great deal of criticism over the union leadership’s failure to give a lead in the dispute over pay in recent consultations. This is despite the ongoing pay freeze that has now wiped out 18 percent of their real term wages.

Last year general secretary Dave Prentis had talked about breaking the pay freeze. He theatrically took an axe to it on stage (pictured). But the fight never materialised. Jim Bald, a delegate from Doncaster, accused Prentis of “premature exaggeration”.

But many delegates pointed out that it wasn’t workers’ will to fight that had been lacking. In branches and regions that called for rejecting the pay offer workers had responded.

Some 63 percent voted for rejection in the north west of England. In Scotland the union is now balloting for industrial action.

But by failing to give a lead nationally, the union leadership effectively invited the members to accept.

Delegates voted to consider industrial action around the next round of pay talks in 2014. There were calls for trying to coordinate with teachers.

They also resolved to campaign nationally for policies of no evictions of tenants hit by the bedroom tax, and to work with the Anti Bedroom Tax and Benefit Justice Federation.

Council workers are angry at having to implement the tax.

Liz Wheatley, a housing worker from Camden, said that members didn’t want to evict people—but that Unison had instructed them to comply with management.

The new policy gives workers a solid base to build on when campaigning over evictions at a local level.

A motion to support councillors who oppose the cuts was passed overwhelmingly—despite attempts to water it down. 

The union leadership argued for the Unison Service Group executives’ position in 2011, that the union should never campaign for “needs based” or “no cuts” budgets. But their amendment was overwhelmingly rejected.

During the conference more than 60 people attended a Socialist Workers Party fringe meeting on capitalism, racism and the war on migrants with barrister Brian Richardson.

Delegates from Barking and Dagenham talked about their experiences campaigning against the fascist British National Party. 

There was a healthy debate about how a call for open borders and freedom of movement would work in practice.

The main Unison conference was set to begin as Socialist Worker went to press. 

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